Traditional doctors say I’m a mystic. I don’t deny it. ~Bernie Siegel
On August 1 and 2, 2009 I had an extraordinary experience while sitting on a beach. It was as though I was having a low-grade seizure. I vibrated as if I were somehow a piano, guitar, or violin string being tuned to a tuning fork. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was by no means a joyous event. I couldn’t stop, not could I explain the quivering. I sat on the edge of the beach and watched the rhythmic waves of the ocean slap the shore.
I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew it was extraordinary. I was hyperalert — in awe — being nudged into a type of anticipatory readiness. I sat in this state for eight hours and watched the sun go down and then up on the other side of the horizon. I was not drinking or taking drugs. I had had no medicine or ingested any unusual foods. Yet, I never stopped shaking. When it was over, I slept through the next day.
A series of unusual and synchronistic events began immediately upon waking. In 60 days, everything I knew to be my life circumstances changed. Everything. Some changes I initiated, some just happened. Like the imago, the last stage an insect attains during metamorphosis, it was as if I were being born into a new life and leaving the shell of my past.
I sought counsel from exceptionally well-respected academics, healers, religious leaders, and clinicians. While each had his or her own unique lens of interpretation, two consistent themes of feedback were clear. The first was comforting: I was not crazy. The second, less so: They all agreed I’d had a mystical experience.
If you’ve had a powerful awakening or religious experience, you are not alone. In 2003, Gallup asked respondents if they had had such an experience that profoundly changed the direction of their life. Forty-one percent said they had.
On October 2, 2015 there will be an opportunity to talk about it. David Bryce Yaden, editor and J. Hugh Kempster, contributor for the new book, Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives, are initiating the invitation to participate in Mystics Anonymous.
The birth of this idea began in 2008 when the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Philip Freier, invited Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, to discuss the implications of positive psychology for the Church. Dr. J. Hugh Kempster, now Vicar of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, in Melbourne, Australia was Seligman’s driver that evening. They exchanged their particular spiritual experiences about their “calling” to the future. This exchange eventually evolved into Kempster having the first Mystics Anonymous meeting four years later. Those interested joined to talk about their incidents and deepen their spiritual lives.
The group grew, and in the fall of 2013 Seligman, with support from the John Templeton Foundation, invited a wide variety of scholars and scientists to the Canterbury Cathedral in England to discuss “Being Called Into the Future.” This unique group of men and women met with the purpose of seeking clarity on the how experiences of being called contributes to spiritual traditions.
It was during this rare meeting that a one-off garden gathering of Mystics Anonymous occurred. David Bryce Yaden, a research fellow and assistant instructor at The University of Pennsylvania in the Positive Psychology Center (under the direction of Martin Seligman) also was present. In the garden the multifaith and secular participants shared their stories. According to Kempster, “It was a deeply moving and memorable afternoon.”
Yaden returned to the University of Pennsylvania and began holding Mystics Anonymous meetings. On October 2, Kempster and Yaden are inviting others to begin their own groups. While a Mystics Anonymous meeting might sound exotic, it is actually extending an ancient tradition. To quote Kempster, “Most of the world’s sacred texts were born out of oral tradition, faith stories both past and present, were told seated around a campfire or dining table or altar.”
Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives has many extraordinary stories and perspectives from many of the participants at that conference and others. From the book here is a brief guideline to hosting a Mystics Anonymous session:
Participants should know that stories shared by others must remain confidential and stories should not be met with analysis or judgment. All belief systems are welcome. The sharing will focus on the experiences themselves rather than theological or philosophical interpretations of the experiences. The meeting is about sharing — not a debate.
A session of Mystics Anonymous should always include:
- A short introduction by the leader of the session that may include a poem or reading.
- Sharing stories about religious, spiritual, or mystical experiences without comment or analysis from other participants.
- Time for contemplative, meditative silence.
If you would like more information about joining or starting a Mystics Anonymous meeting you can email J. Hugh Kempster [email protected] or David Bryce Yaden [email protected] about running a group on October 2nd.